By Marlene S. Gaylinn
Westchester B’way Theatre, Elmsford, N.Y.
Just like the catchy phrase “Can you canoe,” there’s also the tongue’s temptation to say, “You can can-can” too. And so it follows that Cole Porter, who wrote the music and lyrics to this 1953 Broadway musical, utilizes this catchy phrase in one of his tuneful songs for “Can-Can,” which is currently being revived at Westchester B’way Theatre.
For those who are unfamiliar with the title, “Can-Can” it has nothing to do with garbage or sardine cans. This is a very naughty dance that originated in France around the 1830’s, as working-class entertainment. Women, many of them courtesans, teasingly raised their skirts and many layered, ruffled petticoats while performing high kicks and splits during a period when simply showing a bit of ankle was pretty daring for a respectable woman. Similar chorus entertainment was offered at American saloons, under the heading “French Can-Can Bar Dancing” during our Gold Rush period.
It’s a little known fact that in those days, women wore white, cotton bloomers under their dresses and that the garment was usually split down the middle seam -- leaving an opening for functional purposes. So, you can imagine how titillating that split second peek-a-boo must have been. Don’t expect this here. Although the dance is still contains lively teasing, today it’s quite tame.
The musical, “Can-Can” takes place in Paris during 1893. La Mome Pistache, owner of a dance hall is accused of running a scandalous operation. She is taken into court along with her group of seductive, can-can girls and her business is threatened with closure. Judge, Aristide Forestier decides to investigate the operation before the final judgment. Pistache manages to seduce him, the couple fall in love, and everything works out in the end.
Along the way, are amusing sub-plots concerning a dance hall girl named Claudine and her lover, Boris from Bulgaria (whom she supports by her nightly dancing and day job as a laundress). Boris has a motto that he lives by: “Never do anything for another human being unless you can get something out of it.” The couple’s unemployed Bohemian friends are: A painter who can’t figure out what he’s painting, a poet who’s lost in his own words and a sculptor who creates odd fish with human limbs.
The production opened in 1953 and Gwen Verdon, who played Claudine, and choreographer Michael Kidd, won Tony Awards. Today, it seems that the wonderful songs are more familiar than the musical from which they came. Who hasn’t heard “I Love Paris,” “It’s All Right With Me,” and “C’est Magnifique?” Gloria Crampton as “Pistache” and Tony Lawson as “Aristide” make a wonderful pair. Both have rich voices and a lot of charm, despite the fact that sometimes they forget their French accents. Patrick Richwood plays the comic “Boris” and reminds us of Charlie Chaplin. Lauralyn McClelland received top billing as his lady friend, “Claudine,” however her personality lacked the show-stopping sparkle that’s required. Director/Choreographer Richard Stafford aptly projects the French, Bohemian life and his squealing can-can girls are simply delightful. Magically smooth, set transitions are by John Farrell and Craig Barna conducts the live orchestra.
This dinner theatre offers a menu to suit everyone’s requirements and parking is free.
Plays to Oct. 7 Tickets: 914-592-2222.
“Harbor” Westport Country Playhouse, CT
If you find language peppered with dirty words funny, this comedy called “Harbor,” at the Westport Country Playhouse (WCP), will amuse you. However, the main subject matter is not particularly lighthearted. It explores the term “family” and what commitment and belonging mean, if anything, in our rapidly changing society. It’s also about seeking a safe “Harbor” in relationships – something that everyone, despite sexual orientation, tries to achieve.
This semi-autobiographical play is written by two-time Tony Award nominee Chad Beguelin and this is his first play. While the writing is often clever, this “Love of Life” sit-com is not a believable reflection of our society, nor is its message profound. Oddly enough, there are some very poignant moments that make you wonder why this work is even called a “comedy” and not a drama. Perhaps the writer was driven by his many sub-plots and could not determine which one was most important – which accounts for its counter-force ending.
The story is about a male couple, Ted and Kevin. After a 10 yr. marriage, Kevin wishes to adopt a baby and Kevin is totally against it. After not seeing or hearing from her in years, Donna, Kevin’s trashy sister, barges into the couple’s life. She takes drugs, lives in a van, is broke and pregnant and is seeking to be rescued and nurtured. Donna is also the irresponsible mother of an outspoken 15 yr. old daughter, “Lottie,” whom she drags around like extra baggage. Lottie is longing for a stable home. Each the male partners have nurturing instincts and complex conflicts about their love for each other and adopting children. They are also seeking stability in their lives. How this eventually works out for everyone is as open-ended and uncertain as real life. We assume that each character has evolved into yet another pattern that we can call a safe haven of togetherness – or family, if you prefer – but this is not made clear. We are not touched emotionally by any of the characters, so it is hard to care what eventually happens to them.
Whether you agree or not with the play’s concept, the acting and directing by Mark Lamos is certainly engrossing. Bobby Steggert plays the tender character, “Kevin” and Paul Stewart plays his sensitive partner,“Ted.”Kate Nowlin is the very pregnant “Donna,” and Alexis Molnar is the smart, 15 yr. old craving to belong to a responsible, loving parent.
Plays to: Sept. 15 Tickets: 203 227 4177